Nilanjana Roy profiles the leading players in English fiction publishing in India, in the Business Standard.
Penguin India - Former CEO David Davidar, who now heads Penguin Canada, used to say that Penguin India had published "every Indian author of any importance", and that boast still holds true. Some authors grumble that Penguin has become a factory where the bottom line, rather than literary merit, rules. Others praise Penguin's professionalism and the effort it puts into training its staff. Most debut authors still send their manuscripts to Penguin first.Penguin India was set up in 1985 as a joint venture between Penguin Group (one of the top 5 global publishing houses) and Aveek Sarkar of the Ananda Bazar Patrika Group. "Today, the company publishes over 200 titles every year and has an active backlist of over 750 titles," according to Penguin India's website. Penguin launched it's Indian language publishing initiative in April 2005 and has published a few titles in Hindi, Urdu and Marathi.
Roli Books: Often dubbed the "maharaja's press" for its signature coffee table books, many of which feature India's erstwhile princes, Roli Books is branching out. Pramod Kapoor started Roli in a ramshackle warehouse in Daryaganj and soon turned it into India's best-known publisher of coffee-table books. Recently, Roli has moved into fiction, general non-fiction and translations. IndiaInk, the imprint that got off to a fairy-tale start by publishing The God of Small Things, is now under its umbrella. But it's the landmark edition of Khushwant Singh's Train to Pakistan that indicates Roli's real USP might lie in marrying their flair for working with images-Margaret Bourke-White's searing Partition pictures, in this case-with the right book.Roli publishes in English, French, German, Hindi, Italian, Japanese and Spanish!
Rupa & Co: Rupa prides itself on knowing what the "real" reader wants-Anurag Mathur, in a previous generation, Chetan Bhagat in our time, for instance. Rupa, one of the largest in the business, has an incredibly efficient network, which makes up for its uneven editing. But publisher R K Mehra and his son Kapish Mehra both know what works in the market. It’s been a long way from Rupa’s quiet start, with two slender volumes of Bengali verse, to its present status as the publisher that others ignore at their own peril.Rupa was founded in 1936 (yes, as far back as that!) by D. Mehra, in then Calcutta, which explains their first titles being two volumes of Bengali poems.
HarperCollins India: When HarperCollins first came into India, Penguin and Rupa prepared for a battle that never happened. HarperCollins scored minor successes, but was plagued by unrealistic expectations and trouble on the editorial front. This week, seasoned Penguin executive Karthika Karthikeyan-one of the top three there-took over at the helm. With enough editorial support, she might change HarperCollins peripatetic fortunes in India.HarperCollins is another of the global publishing majors, a part of Rupert Murdoch owned News Corp.
Picador India (no India website, only Picador Global web site): Picador India began brilliantly, and still has authors of the calibre of Amit Chaudhuri and I Allan Sealy on its list, but has stayed very small. Where it scores is in the care that goes into design and editing, and its willingness, unusual in this age, to build up a stable of literary authors rather than focus on instant bestsellers.Picador is an imprint of Pan Macmillan, a unit of Macmillan, owned by German media group Holtzbrinck.
Tara Press (no website): Tara Press is part of India Research Press, known for working in close conjunction with authors and editors. The emphasis on design, layout and editing shifts wildly; some books are almost-perfect, others riddled with errors.This is the odd man out. I'm surprised to find Tara Press listed as a leading English fiction publisher in India. How many novels have they published?
Random House India: New entrant Random House has just a scant handful of books to its credit-Manju Kapur's Home, Abha Dawesar's That Summer in Paris-but it seems to be in India for the long haul. Random is led by the formidably intelligent Chiki Sarkar, who packed in a wealth of experience at Bloomsbury before shifting to India. Random should be fun to watch in the next few years, if it doesn't trip up over the problems that have plagued so many other foreign publishersRandom House is another of the global publishing majors, and a part of the German media group, Bertelsmann. Interestingly, Chiki Sarkar, is the daughter of Aveek Sarkar, who owns Penguin India jointly with Penguin Group.
The two global biggies who are not yet publishing in India are Simon & Schuster (part of the Viacom group) and Little Brown/Time Warner Books (now part of Hachette Book Group). Hachette is planning to set up shop in India and Simon & Schuster expects to be publishing in Indian within the next five years.